The editor looks back on the cars he drove during 1969
THE IDEA behind this annual survey, which I find I instituted 17 years ago, is not to underline the variety of cars which the fortunate motoring writer is able to extract every year from manufacturers, nor to emphasise what an enthralling and exciting life such a person leads. It is much more simple than that. The intention is to discuss concisely the cars I road-tested over the preceding twelvemonth, as a pointer to which you should and which you are not advised to invest in, as they once said of those buying Austins. We receive correspondence which proves that MOTOR SPORT readers follow our road-test reports pretty closely and that sales of cars do stem from them, even up to Silver Shadow level. This being the case it seems sensible to recap at the close of a year’s road-testing, as a quick guide to how the cars driven impressed or failed to impress this critic, who has been driving for a sufficiently long period to know something of how cars should go and “feel” and corner and accelerate and so on, thus enabling the full road-test report (obtainable from outback issues or photostat departments) to be consulted where appropriate.
The qualities which a customer seeks in a motor-car must obviously vary. But surely the first must be dependability, inasmuch as if a car refuses to start any desirable and impressive performance and handling aspects it may possess are rendered very null and completely void? That in itself may be a blinding glimpse of the obvious, as Punch would put it, but can be qualified by saying that a good car which develops shortcomings involving mechanical and electrical semi-breakdowns may well come to be regarded by the luckless purchaser as less desirable than a mediocre vehicle of impeccable reliability and consistency. These days there are so many Traffic Act regulations to observe that unless a car remains fully legal its ownership can become an embarrassment—lamps which frequently fail, brakes which pull, steering which early develops play, suspension which wears tyre treads unevenly and so on, these and similar shortcomings can mar other qualities in the make-up of a car.
So I place reliability and dependability top of the list of desirable qualities a car in which you intend to invest should possess. Unfortunately road tests of the usual ten to fourteen days’ duration cannot comment on these aspects of a car but our correspondence columns can sometimes be enlightening. Next to mechanical and electrical integrity, I suppose acceleration is of great importance, in an age when in this country maximum speed above a staid 70 m.p.h. is of value only on race circuits. Qualities of control, ranging over how the thing corners, stops, the pleasure or otherwise derived from changing gear, braking and using the clutch, collectively make or mar a car’s reputation. One which lurches round a corner at very high speed without breaking away may be less enjoyable to drive than another that cannot corner quite so rapidly but does so with an indefinable sense of safety and well-being. Noise, uncomfortable seats, badly placed major and minor controls, stupidly arranged instruments, these are items which can detract from performance merits if a car is driven for long periods at a time.
Consequently, choice of a new car involves a very considerable number of factors, some measurable, some subtle in the extreme and unmeasurable. All I can do in the words which follow is to tell you how some cars impressed me and others disappointed. Letting one driver alone write a road-test report has the merit that, although he can hardly fail to be biased in some directions, all the opinions stem from the same assessment and readers who have read the same tester’s reports for more than twenty years will know where such bias lies and make due allowance for it. When a team of writers is let loose to compile a single test report the result may he what Mr. Averagedriver thinks of a car but as you, the reader and not Mr. or Mrs. Averagedriver, whose reflexes and reactions are inadequate above 40 m.p.h. the findings may well not add up. When one car is compared to another, or group testing indulged in, it is essential to compare cars fairly, not only by the obvious equaliser price groupings, but in respect of the purpose for which each car was designed, evolved and marketed. The follow-up of such group testing with individual tester’s findings is apt to confuse an issue which was never very clear at the outset, nor do I think a car can be decided upon, as a desirable personal purchase, by counting the blobs on a chart.
Anyway, we at MOTOR SPORT do it the well-established way, by giving a car submitted for test to one experienced driver, usually the Editor, and letting him express his personal opinion of it. Even detailed performance figures are a bit pointless, for we all know of instances in which precisely the same car, as revealed by its Reg. No., returns quite widely differing figures for top speed, acceleration and petrol thirst when tested almost simultaneously by two different weekly journals.
Enjoyment and a good return from a car are much more than its time over a s.s. 1-mile or its lap speed at MIRA unless it is bought purely for competition work. There are quite unexciting cars which appeal because they somehow impart an indefinable sense of well-being, of being likely to provide predictable transport over great mileages with a useful ease of control. There are other cars which have an unconventional approach to the common theme of transport and are enjoyable on account of the fresh techniques required to get the best out of them. Which is the more desirable, in terms a personal possession depends on how much you apply yourself to driving, as distinct from letting the car drive you, and maybe on how many members of a family have to use the beast of burden. It has to he recognised, too, that in the world of cars, fashions change extremely quickly. A few years ago I was of the expressed opinion that peace of mind and safety on the road were synonymous with front-wheel-drive and that BMC’s Hydeolastic all-independent rubber suspension was 100″. Some years prior to making these dogmatic pronouncements, I was a very loud advocate of air-cooling and rear-engined motoring. In more recent times I have had to confess that I have derived great driver-enjoyment from many different cars, from those of Panhard-Leyassor conventionality, from front-drivers, and from those with the engine in their tails, and that personal motoring requirements have been met by a front-engined car with de Dion rear suspension.
What this implies is that both the motor-car and motoring can give pleasure. And the latter still pleasurable, although the ever widening ripples of traffic congestion, a vehicle-density that involves driving a radiator to someone else’s luggage boot at 38 m.p.h. I find depressing Fifteen years or so ago, when driving home from the office, the Continental Correspondent and I used to remark that after we had crossed the Sunningdale level-crossing on the A30 we were on our own. Because from then on, especially after dark, there was a noticeable paucity of traffic and the road Westwards was plunged into dark ness. Now the highway is congested most of the way to Basingstoke and beyond and the nose-to-tail traffic lasts at least to Salisbury Twenty years ago the country town in which I reside was gas-lit and grass-verged and you could stop in a High Street and work on a vintage car without anyone noticing.
Today it has neon lamps, concrete kerbs, traffic problems and traffic wardens. . . . Whereas commuter on the main railway line that serves it used to mostly alight at Woking leaving a handful of yokels to travel on to the barbarian lands beyond today nearly everyone stays put to hideous New Basingstoke and further afield, and the station car park, where once my Austin 7 looked so lonely and conspicuous is bursting its boundaries, all this within two brief decades or less…. When I first found sanctuary outside England, over the Welsh border, we used to say that, after Gloucester, traffic problems vanished. Now, only a few years later, the road from there onwards has become noticeably busier, has more crawling commercials on it, so that one cannot often open-up a good car until Hereford has been negotiated.
Thus, while I would be the last to say that motoring is no longer any fun in this country, even though on our great and costly Motorways we are curtailed to 69 m.p.h., it has become increasingly necessary to choose the right routes and a sensible time, if fast motoring is to be as enjoyable as once it was. Certainly those who live within sixty miles or so of big cities have a miserable beginning and ending to the majority of their journeys, and what it will be like in the next ten years I prefer not to contemplate. . .
These prevailing conditions surely dictate that the most suitable cars for us are those built in this country or in Europe? America’s cars are too big and casually braked for British roads, and their new spate of “compacts” no smaller than the Fords and Vauxhalls we can buy here. Japan is challenging hard but so far, I think, without real impact. Russian and East German cars are a decade behind the times by our standards and the rugged promise of Scandinavian cars has faded somewhat in recent years. So perhaps it is appropriate that the two dozen road-test cars which came my way in 1969 comprised British, French, Italian and German makes, with one Japanese car for good measure, shod, incidentally, in nine instances with Michelin tyres, in five with Goodyear, three with Pirelli, two each with Dunlop, Avon and India, and one each with Continental and Phoenix covers.
Let us recap, on these ears, alphabetically. The Alfa Romeo 1750 GTV is a car for which I have almost nothing but enthusiastic praise. It is good on paper—twin-Cam engine, five-speed gearbox, disc brakes all round, etc.—and it is equally good to drive. I used this delectable sports-saloon to attend Lord Montagu’s garden party at Beaulieu, when the sun shone down hotly, the steam organs played, and Barry Clarke outwitted the waiters to the strawberries and cream, took it down into Wales, and to Bucklers Hard on another warm July day for the party to release a motoring encyclopedia. All this driving was sheer joy, the engine note never aggressive but nevertheless a reminder that there was a hemispherical-head racebred engine under the short bonnet, the performance, enhanced by the five-speed, cog-for-every-occasion gearbox, more than adequate for British roads and speed restrictions, the brakes, cornering and steering impeccable. The overall pleasure imparted by this eager, individualistic Italian car was such that I could forgive its rather lively springing, hard upholstery on the very well-contrived seats and an irritating absence of “keeps” on its doors.
I think it would have gone even better had the Webers not suffered from lack of interest below 3,000 r.p.m., but the docility and smoothness of the 1,799-c.c. engine from 1,500 r.p.m. to the impressive 8,000-r.p.m. maximum marked on the tachometer was very impressive, especially as it ignored the need for frequent oil replenishment, had a range of nearly 290 miles and gave nearly 27 m.p.g. of fuel. The brakes felt in need of some mild adjustment and the Michelin XAS tyres were apt to squeal before they were hurt, but then no car is perfect. But this Alfa Romeo GTV is so nearly so that I have since encountered many people who are contemplating going in for them.
Next, alphabetically, is the Aston Martin DBS. It had been far too long since MOTOR SPORT had road-tested a car of this renowned make. We had been keen advocates since I went down to Feltham by electric train before the war to write-up the Bertelli cars. But in later times we got no change out of our requests to test one. However last year I felt the climate improving and was allowed to look over the Newport Pagnell factory, incidentally, being taken by Dudley Gershon to see his great V8 engine, then still on the secret list. My idea of having a picture of Caernarvon Castle on the front cover of the issue of MOTOR SPORT which came out on the day of the Investiture of HRH the Prince of Wales caused me to search frantically for a suitable car. It had to be a British prestige car and an Aston Martin seemed the obvious choice, although I have ever since regretted that I did not insist on a Welsh-built Gilbern Invader. However, that Aston Martin had to be supplied at short notice by H. R. Owen Ltd. and it was unfortunate that it turned out to be the automatic-gearbox model, inasmuch as performance is somewhat restricted in that guise and the kickdown action not very nice.
But the 4-litre six-cylinder twin-cam engine got us very swiftly to North Wales and we were impressed with the excellent steering and the handling of this big motor-car, except for some sideways hop from the de Dion rear-end over rough going. Some but not all of the very comprehensive equipment of this £6,112 car also impressed but the disintegration of its exhaust system, which pretty well gassed the passenger, and a tendency to stall in London traffic, did not. However, two days was all too short an experience of a very impressive British high-performance car and I hope this year to be allowed to drive the big V8 on the Continent. As for the Castle on the cover, I hope it was appreciated, as a gesture to the Welsh, who had decorated their every tiny village and hamlet with British and Welsh bunting for the Investiture, who were so pleased with the new Prince’s speech in their native language, and who were relieved that the ceremony went off in good weather and without violence. I can only say that when I saw the pile of MOTOR SPORT at Smiths’ in Llandrindod Wells I could not refrain from asking the assistant how people were reacting to the topical cover she replied. “It’s always been green, sir. . . .” Ah well.
I drove away in the Austin Maxi from BMC’s Holland Park depot, since closed, with hope in my heart that this would be the breakthrough that the British Motor Industry so badly needs. It had a clever five-door body in its favour but I have to admit, like other critics, that the Maxi was too noisy, lacked power unless the revs were kept well up, had a notchy cable-actuated gear-change, and that its five-speed gearbox was really an alternative to having overdrive and that its rack-and-pinion steering was too low geared especially on its too upright column. The overhead camshaft 1 1/2 litre engine was new but also out-dated, being of iron, with a chain-driven o.h. camshaft for its non-cross-flow head. I tried hard to like this long-awaited new BMC car and it does have the secure road-clinging and handleability for which the Issigonis/Moulton suspension formula is renowned but it didn’t add up, in total, as a brilliant new 1969 offering; I say this with real regret, having experienced some reliable motoring in the original Mini, followed by much enjoyment of the 1100 model.
Another car which has been well received and has a reputation for ruggedness but which didn’t entirely appeal to me was the Auto-Union Audi 100LS. I assessed it over a four-figure mileage. This very spacious four-door saloon is beautifully finished and appointed but for fast driving the suspension proved ueduly supple and front-drive not entirely the answer. The 100LS is a considerable improvement on previous strongly understeering Audis I have tried but must be dismissed as a fine, very roomy fast touring saloon rather than a car for the enthusiastic driver, and its gear shift was a bit too sticky.
During last year I was fortunate in driving two BMWs, the BMW 1800TI and the BMW 2800. The present BMW range covers some of the best fast saloon cars in the world. The former was a privately owned, not a road-test car, and there must have been something amiss, because it understeered to excess and was a real handful to take through roundabouts, the steering horribly stiff. My respect for the Munich make was fully restored when I spent a few days in the six-cylinder 2800. I had wondered whether this would be a disappointment, like driving she big 3-litre Austin after an Austin 1800. I was soon reassured. The 2800 BMW was almost impossible to fault and covered congested roads to the West Country quickly and impeccably. I wrote that “If you regard the BMW Six as an extension of the great four-cylinder BMWs, with almost unbelievable performance but none of the splendid driving qualities impaired, you have a good idea of what motoring in one of the finest cars to emerge last year is like”; and I added that to try one is to buy one. That about sums it up, although the Phoenix Senator tyres tended to protest too early, reverse gear was occasionally over-ridden, and the start of the test was delayed when the bonnet jammed shut. The BMW 2800 is a great motor-car, enhanced by the typically German high-grade finish, but there were times when I felt that although this is quite one of the best ways of motoring easily and effortlessly through present-day traffic these BMWs are rather akin to impeccable humans—so smooth as to be a trifle dull. . .
A little Citroen Dyane 6 proved little only in respect of the swept volume of its air-cooled flat-twin engine. Its body is by no means little and the almost ridiculously soft but sure suspension and excellent brakes which it has inherited from the immortal 2 C.V. to a satisfactory extent wash out the effects of the modest horse-power. A grand fun car, this small Citroen . . .
The outstanding car tried last year in a price class which many buyers can afford was undoubtedly the Fiat 124 coupe. The liveliness of the push-rod Fiat 124 had made a profound impression and here was a twin-cam version with belt-driven camshafts, a light change to a five-speed gearbox, and very safe and enjoyable handling characteristics. With excellent lines and a body which is decidedly more than just a 2+2, quality finish, controls that literally “come to hand”, and seats which support the occupants as this gay car is flung through the bends, it isn’t surprising that the 124 coupe has made so many friends. At the British selling price of under £1,500, fuel economy in the order of over 27 m.p.g. and a speed in 4th gear which is rather quicker than the 99 m.p.h. available in 5th, this really is an exceptionally pleasing car to own. If you can stand a modicum of engine noise and somewhat harsh suspension, with a rigid back axle which can make its presence felt on rough roads in return for she neutral cornering, the fun of driving behind a racing-type engine willing to rev. to 6,600 r.p.m. and a car which will turn many heads, this Fiat 124 coupe is a car to seriously consider.
I also hold a high opinion of the Fiat 125S, which also has a twin-cam engine with timing drive by silent belts. When earlier I drove a Fiat 125 saloon I was not impressed and felt churlish when a neighbour who is a keen fan of one asked my opinion of the test car, to be told I didn’t much want one. I thought the ride and cornering too “familycar” after a harsh-sprung Ford Cortina GT I had been using. Why the 125S with its extra ten h.p. seems so much different I do not know, but it was one of the best medium-size closed cars I tested last year. I was also able to try briefly the new Fiat 128 and the luxury V6 Fiat 130 in their native country. The 128, like the Peugeot 204, is a charmingly sophisticated application of the front-drive, transverse engine layout and a most attractive small car in every way, so that it has already won one of those “Car of the Year” accolades. The Fiat 130 will surely build up a great reputation in its class; had I had more time to study its many ingenious technical features when I was at the Centro Storico in Turin I would be telling this page with warm praise for Fiat’s latest addition to their comprehensive range.
Last year the much-discussed Ford Capri came to me in two versions, a Ford Capri 1600GT and the 3-litre V6 Ford Capri GT. The first one coincided with some extremely wintry weather and as I had to drive cross-country from Radnorshire to Wolverhampton in it for the enjoyable VSCC Marshals’ Dinner and the following day’s snowy driving tests, I was a bit perturbed when the Capri refused to climb my drive, which commences with a considerable r.h. bend on which the Goodyears failed to grip. We had to walk our luggage to the house but by exercising care the long weekend run was safely accomplished without having to abandon this handsome new Ford in any of the valleys. This Capri came in the XLR equipment bracket, and while I found it adequately fitted out I disapproved of some of the minor control and switch-gear arrangements. I was also a trifle disappointed that this Mustang-like brute had to get beyond 80 m.p.h. before outaccelerating the beloved Ford 1600E. The figures we took showed that 17 seconds were required to reach 70 m.p.h. from rest and that a 5.5 3/4-mile occupied 18.8 seconds.
The 3-litre V6 Capri put right any criticism of lack of pick-up and must be regarded as the best of all Capris and while road-holding and cornering lack the sort of finesse which you expect from a true sports car and the ride remains typically Dagenham oval-wheel, for what they are and what they cost these Ford Capris are significant cars, whose controversial appearance has become more acceptable, in my opinion, with the passage of time.
The Ford Escort Twin-Cam was another interesting car to try, which I took to the HOC Prescott meeting for that nostalgic Bugatti cavalcade, Eric Giles taking me up the course in his Type 46, as a further reviver of pre-war memories. The Ford Escort in twin-cam form is a truly great little car, as it could hardly fail to be with a top velocity of some 112 m.p.h., acceleration of the order of 0-60 m.p.h. in less than ten seconds, and road-clinging and cornering power quite able to cope. So this modest-looking closed conveyance; with 80 m.p.h. possible in 3rd gear, is about as fast as anything you are likely to encounter, especially on twisty roads. Yet it is not, apart from a high noise level, the tricky, rally-type car some writers have dubbed it. I found it docile enough even for middle-aged and cautious drivers but it did give me a fright when, the evening before I was due to drive to the VSCC Oulton Park meeting in it and was checking speeds in the lower gears, the engine emitted a horrid noise as peak r.p.m. were reached. I thought I had dropped a valve but the automatic ignition cut-out had protected the mechanicals as intended and it was only a blown exhaust-manifold gasket. But the local Ford dealer made it apparent that he didn’t trust twin-cams and I had a very noisy journey the next day. However, this, and a sump that emptied itself rather quickly, and those badly placed switches, did not manage to mar the grand fun of driving this hot Escort with its so excellent power weight ratio. The only other Ford I handled last year was the
Ford Zodiac de luxe Abbott estate-car
. It was dealt with last month, so there is no need to say more here than that I like the estate-car version of the V6 Fords better than the rather slow-selling saloons and that this luxury shooting-brake is a very useful load-shifter.
The Hillman GT grew on me the further I drove it, which was mainly to Devon and Cornwall, a night being spent with Anthony Blight who has recently completed one of the most fascinating studies of Roesch Talbots and the history of sports-car racing ever written. This Hillman gets along very well, compared to a Ford Cortina GT has a better ride and a trace more refinement, but lacks some of the luxury equipment with which all Rootes’ medium-sized models used to be endowed. The high-back seats and speed-flash were items I could have done without, but the stupidly-dubbed GT version of the Hunter served us well and I hope it, the Marathon victory and Chrysler dollars will save a concern which has made sprite interesting contributions to motoring, not forgetting the late-lamented Sunbeam Alpine.
One of the highlights of the 1969 road-test curriculum was trying the NSU R080. This advanced Wankel-powered car came up to expectations, combining as it does comfort, effortless cruising, a level of choppy ride and safe high-speed cornering, but it used a lot of petrol and oil and was not enamoured of the automatic clutch providing two-pedal control on the “Sportomatic” system. Fascinating but expensive in this country might sum up this unusual German car and, as I said at the time, the Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow rides even better, there are faster cars and some that are more comfortable, but on allround merit this NSU is one of the best family cars in the business. Yet they are not seen on British roads in any numbers.
An Opel Commodore GS coupe provided a combination of German quality, American-style nonchalence of running from an in-line six overhead-camshaft 2-1/2 litre oversquare engine, and European standards of control and braking. Performance was in the 115-m.p.h. 0-60 in 10 seconds bracket, and there was good power steering. The engine got noisy when extended and as is all too common with modern cars, after you had described the ride as pitch-free this had to be qualified by the words “lurchy” and “lively”. But I enjoyed this Opel more than I had anticipated and look forward to driving the 1900GT coupe.
The very real refinement of the Peugeot 204 coupe is a happy contrast to most other small cars and represents a sophisticated application of a transverse engine driving the front wheels. I like all Peugeots but we get them all too infrequently. Unfortunately the price of the 204 coupe in this country—£1,327—puts it out of court for most smallcar shoppers. I made acquaintance last year with the Rover 3500 V8 in its latest guise with a better system of automatic transmission. It was one of the most enjoyable cars of the year, mainly because all the good features of the Rover 2000 are allied to smoothness of power production and such effective acceleration that on I hurried run back into Wales from Oulton Park on Good Friday I am sure some road users thought t was taking chances in filling in the gaps in the traffic, whereas so sure-footed was the Rover on its Avons and such is its pick-up that the multi-cylinder 3500 can accomplish such passing operations in complete safety. As I know from long experience of a Rover 3500 V8. the de Dion back-end’s absence of weight transference and its upright wheels make it possible to accelerate hard on slippery roads and progress in a straight line. Couple such handling qualities and the compact individuality of this Rover with the light-alloy V8 engine conceived originally by General Motors and you have a very acceptable four-seater saloon for dignified and dashing drivers alike.
There are those who bemoan the fact that Peter Wilks rehashed an American power unit for the Rover 3500 when BI.MC had good V8 of their own, and I join in regretting the passing of the line 4 1/2 litre V8 Daimler Majestic. But if Mr. Wilks, Rover’s Engineering Director, had not evolved this highly acceptable Rover there would equally have been people crying out to know why they couldn’t have a compact car with a light engine of more than six cylinders. Rover have produced it and there is nothing else quite like it among all the many makes and models on the market. Bravo, Solihull!
Mark you, I think you need to be pretty senile to habitually use a car without a manual gear-change, which is the only reason why Editorial transport isn’t provided by one of these splendid V8 Rovers. But I had a most enjoyable time with the test car. I had gone to Oulton Park to see the F5000 cars race, and very dull it proved. I returned from Wales to Hampshire on Easter Sunday evening in order to be at the BARC’s new Thruxton circuit on the Bank Holiday, where the F5000 racing was much more exciting. When it was obvious that Rindt in the new Lotus 59B would lead home the Matra MS7s of Stewart, Beltoise, Pescarolo and Servoz-Gavin, and having seen him set a new lap-record of 114.62 m.p.h., my youngest daughter and I scrambled into the Rover and got clear as the race finished. I then drove back to Wales, avoiding the holiday traffic by turning away from any jams we encountered at junctions and roundabouts. This led us across a part of the Wiltshire Downs that were new to us, with some astonishing outcrops of rock amongst the grass, and finally to Swindon, where we were confused by the signposting but eventually got to the Cricklade road without much delay. The Rover then went to my eldest daughter’s wedding the following day and was returned to Scagrave Road the day after that, with over 1,300 satisfactory miles totted up.
Here I will digress to say that I later watched the BRDC International Trophy Meeting at Silverstone to see the F1 cars perform. This I found pretty dull and thereafter I confined my race-going to those events I enjoy, put on by the well-established Vintage SCC. If this seems a shocking admission coming from the Editor of MOTOR SPORT, is it any worse than that of the late C. G. Grey who, when he was Editor of The Aeroplane, used to take a delight, in telling you that he flew on one day every year so that he could spend the remaining 364 saying how dangerous it was? However, we had other reporters working around the World to describe those races we thought you should know about.
Reverting to testing, the Sunbeam Rapier H120 is a car the appearance of which does not appeal to me because I do not think fastback styling is applicable to a full four-seater but which, because it combines more than adequate equipment, ample performance, individuality and a certain rugged approach to the rigours of the road in the hands of determined drivers, has found a niche it deserves in the sales charts. I used it for sonic long journeys, including attending the VSCC. Prescott hill-climb on the way home from one of my numerous trips to Wales. There is comprehensive instrumentation and it is a comfortable car, even if the handling has dated somewhat. It runs a decent distance on a tankful of fuel, and altogether I hope this Rapier with the Holbay engine will remain in production and that the Sunbeam, unlike the Riley last year, will not suddenly find itself to be what Lord Montagu calls a “Lost Cause”.
The Japanese car of 1969 was a Toyota Corolla 1100 de luxe
in which I went to Brooklands and waited in vain to see that excellent replica Vickers Vimy make its first flight in the hands of “Dizzy” Addicott, and also took further afield. It proved to be a very good little car, with a trace of Escort styling about it, spoilt by the “grinning mouth” radiator grille. It did not suffer as some Japanese cars I have driven do from body shake or poor brakes. It had a truly economic petrol thirst, a sporting performance but a very “sudden” clutch. It could endanger our exports.
Two Triumph products were included in the test programme, a Triumph Vitesse Mk. II saloon and the Triumph 2.5 PI saloon. Although I much like the formula of a big (and six-cylinder) engine in a light compact car I did not feel that the handling of the Vitesse was entirely adequate for the performance with which it is endowed. But as an almost-all-in-top-gear (and o/d) car this multi-cylinder Herald, if a bit cramped within and suffering from impaired visibility in dirty weather, was quite attractive. Untroubled acceleration is always an appreciated quality and this the 2-litre Vitesse possesses in good measure; its rear suspension, while still retaining a transverse leaf-spring, has been revised, and it was lack of front-end adhesion rather than tricks from the rear which troubled me. The petrol injection Triumph saloon with its enlarged engine took me to Silverstone for the Pomeroy Trophy Contest, among other runs. I still think that the interior decor is shoddy and fussy and those batteries of coloured lights disconcerting. Nor did I find much joy in driving this latest manifestation of the sometimes-called rival of the Rover 2000. This on account of starting not being very prompt, the PI reminding me of a dentist’s drill, a sound I had not otherwise heard for 42 years, the steering being spongy and somewhat imprecise, the body apt to transmit shake, the gear-change very notchy, the accelerator action jerky and the heater not particularly effective. There is no denying, however, the very responsive and smooth response from the engine in PI form, and o/d enables its rotational speed to be kept down to about 4,000 r.p.m. at the genuine “ton”.
Finally, there was the Volkswagen 4IIL in automatic gearbox form. I have hoped for a long time that each successive new VW model would enable me to generate some of the great enthusiasm I once felt for the multitudes from Wolfsburg. So far, except for the 1500 disc braked Beetle, I have been disappointed. The 4IIL did nothing to alleviate this disappointment. For one thing, I never got warm, even when I had mastered the auxiliary petrol-Surfing heater (there was no instruction book). Then, honest car that any VW is, beautifully finished, the 4IIL seemed a bit over-functional for 1969 and over £1,500 in purchase price, the transmission was noisy, some of the locking arrangements inconvenient, and the engine idled very roughly. I concede that the multi-adjustments of the big driving seat, even to lumbar support, made for comfort and that the “unburstable” power unit, with no water around it, and the rear-engined car’s ability to climb snow-covered gradients, were worthwhile attributes, and that a fourdoor VW is quite something. But I await the next new model from VW before becoming wildly pro-Wolfsburg again—perhaps the midengined model will be the answer?
That conduces my account of’ the motoring I did in 1969 in road test cars. But there was other driving, too. The Editorial Rover 2000TC totted up another 16,000 miles, bringing its total to over 36,000, and, serviced by Rover at intervals of roughly 5,000 miles, has proved a prompt commencer and a reliable performer. It has consumed some exhaust systems and stop-lamp bulbs, suffered a leaking clutch master cylinder, and is now exhibiting a tendency to stall until really warm and to run roughly. But it bears out my assumption that low-priced cars really need replacement after 10,000 miles— nor that they are by then worn out, but the edge is beginning to go— whereas the more expensive models should not come to this state in less than 30,000 miles. This Rover has good and bad features. The understeer in conjunction with that big, slippery but fully adjustable steering wheel and the gear-change are poor points, although Dunlop SP Sport tyres have improved the feel of the steering (and after 15,500 miles are about half-worn, at 4 mm., on the rear treads, with 5 1/2 mm. of tread on the front tyres), and the little stubby gear-lever with its clever reverse catch is marred only because it needs brute force to make it go into 1st gear, I am told due to gearbox and engine being fractionally out of line, though Seagrave Road have never cured this.
The sidelight telltales, perhaps fitted to counteract the complex lampsswitching, the bulkhead stowage bins, the effective reversing lamps, the effective screen wipers with washers that seldom require replenishing, the “choke-off” warning light, etc., are credit factors of this comfortable, level-riding, safe-handling and dignified car-of-character; a heavy clutch with slippery pedal rubber and a vanishing rear-view mirror, etc., are debit aspects. But the car still gives around 26 m.p.g., admittedly of five-star fuel, and not only does the engine continue to keep its sump very nearly full between 5,000-mile servicings but the Castrol keeps clean too, so I have a high opinion of this particular o.h. camshaft power unit. On the other hand, it lacks torque until revving beyond 5,000 r.p.m., so this outwardly stately saloon has to be driven like a sports car to obtain any worthwhile performance. However, in spite of far too much time unwashed and in the open, the Rover cleans up well, nor could any other upholstery than Connolly’s hide have survived the mud and wear inflicted on it by a couple of dogs who insist on motoring with me. If Lord Stokes ever decides that there isn’t room for four- and six-cylinder 2-litre cars in the BLMC catalogues, I suggest he reviews the sales figures before abandoning the Rover 2000 for the Triumph 2000.
To the major mileages I added a few more in an Austin Cooper Mk. II, a Mercedes-Benz 300SLE, an Audi 100, and VW Beetles of 1953, 1958 and 1962 vintages. Then there was some enjoyable old-car motoring. I was able to go on the HCVC Brighton Run in the massive 1919 Chivers Leyland van, this gaining an appreciation of what it would have been like to have been a RFC driver in 1914/18. I was able to share with Michael Ware, Curator of the Montagu Motor Museum, a 1903 twin-cylinder Panhard-Levassor on the RAC/VCC Veteran Car Run to Brighton and go with Peter Moores in his 1921 24-h.p. Sunbeam limousine to the STD Register Wolverhampton Rally. The Panhard proved the perfect veteran for the occasion, never once stopping its engine en route, and the Sunbeam gave motoring typical of an Edwardian-design motor carriage in the immediate post Armistice era, albeit I was happy when asked to drive it because in spite of the imposing Cunard body, it bears out the old adage that in cars of this period the chauffeur had a better time than the owner, who was compelled to sit uncomfortably upright, right over the back axle!
There was that unexpectedly pleasing 1951/2 Daimler Barker Special Sports coupe with which I conducted a used-car test and an amusing day when we exercised some of those old cars I have salted away in a barn, which resulted in the 1922 Talbot-Darracq boiling over, the 1924 Cluley sparking only when its magneto was cold, and the 1927 Family-model Morgan three-wheeler performing lustily so far as water-cooled JAP engine was concerned but having clutch slip and eventually breaking its top-speed selector fork, although coming safely home to roost in low-speed. The 1934 Austin 10/4 behaved impeccably carrying the dustbins to the local dump on its carrier, a 1935 flat-twin jowett demonstrated “the little engine with the big pull” and had excellent weather protection and a very spacious dickey-seat, and it was during this mad outing that I bought another Armstrong Siddeley. . . The 1930 Riley Nine, which we call a “Thruxton” or a “Silverstone” as it certainly isn’t a “Brooklands”, gave 275 miles of fun and fresh air behind aero-screens between bouts of big-end failure, which we thought thin shell bearings, from a Vauxhall Crests, had cured, until it came apart again while the Continental Correspondent was racing it in the VSCC Spero Trophy Race at Thruxton. The 1930 Sunbeam Sixteen with its post-war estate-car body notched up another 450 trouble-free miles, attending the Booker and STD Sandhurst rallies, although it gave me a bad time when one of its new Dunlops punctured on a run to beyond the Welsh border and the jack was missing. . . . I see that I grappled with the gear-change of a 1932 3-litre Lagonda, had a few miles in the 1924 12/20 Calthorpe and two exceptionally cold rides in a 1924 sleeve-valve Mors tourer to the Beaulieu Lost Causes Rails and in Graham Rankin’s 1925/7 sleeve-valve open Minerva.
It was so cold in the sternsheets as the last-named, coming back from Brighton after lunching with Brooklands drivers Baker and Harvey Noble, that it was only just possible to breathe. Perhaps that is why the Minerva’s owner left shortly afterwards to drive a near-vintage Austin 7 from England to Australia. . . Another cold but exhilarating run I enjoyed was in Garry Palmer’s 1924 Targa Florio Mercedes. I also organised another Reunion at what remained of a rapidly-vanishing Brooklands Track and went to the Beaulieu and Andover Traction Engine Rallies, the latter in the splendid isolation and splendour of Adrian Liddell’s 1921 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost Ferguson limousine, as well as travelling up to Capel Curig to inspect the disinterred “Babs”. So vintagery was adequately embraced in 1969.
That’s about the lot, adding up to more than 35,000 miles driven last year without a crash, a conviction, or any clashes with the Police or Traffic Wardens, which these days is, maybe, more luck than judgement. I look forward to more such motoring in 1970 and will conclude by saying that while I cannot abide bogus Alfa Romeo 1750s, Excaliburs, imitation Bugattis and suchlike, and have nothing but contempt for ancient s.v. Fords disguised by plastic parodies of Edwardian bodywork, I consider that the best motoring is that done in an open sports car, which is why I am so glad the Lotus 7S (0-70 in 9 seconds isn’t to be despised!) and the Morgan Plus-Eight are still available; they are true sports cars in the best tradition of the past without making a mickey of history. I sometimes reflect that Colin Chapman and Peter Morgan, the former with his aeroplanes and GP cars, the latter having his charming country house and his Ferrari motoring, must smile, if not laugh, at the tycoons of Industry toiling and worrying at their busy city desks, for they have achieved their ambitions by running two of the smallest car factories in the country, devoted to sports-car motoring as understood by the enthusiast. On that note, roll on the 1970 road-tests, which will, I think, commence with one of those irresistible Alfa Romeos.—W.B.